Thursday, November 19, 2020

A Month of Wednesdays: September 2020


Detective Comics #1027 (DC Comics) To celebrate the 1,000th consecutive issue of Detective Comics to star Batmanand ignoring the time in 2011 when DC reset the dial on the book back to #1 before eventually resuming the original numberingthis issue of the publisher's namesake title has been transformed into a format that will be familiar from all those 80th anniversary super-specials published earlier in the year. That is, it's an anthology special featuring a bunch of short-ish stories in a prestige format, interspersed with a handful of pin-ups and published under a whole mess of variant covers (although I can't imagine anyone wanting one other than the Frank Quitely one because wow, just look at that!). 

The main thing that differentiates it from other recent, similar comics is its length: There are a full dozen stories here, all of them 12 pages long save one, making for an overall sizable package of 145-ish pages. 

As for the contributors, they too can be pretty much inferred from recent like books. They are mostly dudes (Kelly Sue Deconnick and Mariko Tamaki are the only female writers, and Emanuela Luppachino the only female penciler or inker) and, of those dudes, most of them are writing or have previously written Batman and/or Detective Comics and/or other Batman books: Tom King, Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka, Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV, Peter Tomasi, Marv Wolfman. The art is a little less predictable; though many of the artists involved have of course drawn Batman somewhere or other in the past, few of them have worked too extensively on the character on a run on one of his books. In that regard, Detective Comics artist Brad Walker, who has drawn much of Tomasi's run, is something of an exception.

All of the comics do a fairly decent job of being about Batman as an iconic figure and/or as a character, rather than Batman simply being a character in the story. Almost all of them have something to recommend them, and even the stories I found the least engaging tended to have excellent art or a clever construction to them.

After spending an afternoon thinking about it, I'm fairly certain the one-time Batman, Inc creative team of Grant Morrison and Chris Burnham produced the all-around best story of the lot, in the form of the cleverly entitled eight-page story "Detective #26."  Essentially just a joke story, featuring the origin of an embryonic "mystery man" named "The Silver Ghost" who was just about to debut as Gotham City's much-needed champion at a chemical factory.
"If The Silver Ghost doesn't tackle the scourge of crime in Gotham, who will?" he narrates, "Who will?"

And then a turn of the page offers the answer, as we find the story intersecting with the climax of "The Case of The Chemical Syndicate," the very first Batman story from the pages of Detective Comics #27, and we get to see Burnham's version of First Appearance Batman (making his first of two appearances in this very issue, by the way).

 It's a quite effective story, made even more so by how much work Morrison and Burnham put into making the Silver Ghost seem kind of cool. His narration is purposely terrible, of course, but man, what a cool design and name (the echo of The Gray Ghost seems intentional, as that mystery man appears on a rooftop crowded with many others in one panel). Burnham also does an amazing job of making the crime-ruled, pre-Batman streets of Gotham City look grotesquely, colorfully decadent, with every character in one panel looking like a Dick Tracy villain.

I had some nitpicks with Tynion's script for "Ghost Story," a Batman/Deadman team-up, but it was honestly one of my favorites of this crop. Tynion seems awfully loose with the "rules" of how Deadman interacts with living people like Batman and Robin Dick Grayson (he both has to possess one of them to talk to the other, and also doesn't...? At only 12 pages, it shouldn't be that hard to pick one and stick with it), and the bit at the end in which a supernatural DC superhero offers to reveal to Batman the fate of his dead parents was something we've seen previously, but, on the other hand, it is a pretty fun riff on a relatively regular if off-beat team-up of two of DC's "-man" heroes; maybe not the World's Finest but, as Deadman puts it, "The World's Spookiest." 

Of course, much of the reason the story is so fun is that it's drawn by Riley Rossmo, who always kills it in these anthologies, and who I would love to see get a nice, substantial run on a Bat-book someday. His version of Deadman is unlike any of the others I've seen before, as he draws Boston Brand not simply as a floating corpse (although he does that too), but trailing a long tail of ectoplasm; his Deadman moves around the pages like a comet, like red and white smoke circling the heroes or climbing inside them.

When he possesses one of the Dynamic Duo, their eyes turn red, and their dialogue bubbles similarly gain a red border (colorist Ivan Plascencia and Andworld Design deserve some credit here too). The purpose of the team-up is to help Deadman take down someone calling himself The Specter Collector, a mad inventor who has developed special gauntlets that allow him to touch ghosts and seemingly suck up their energy (At one point, he even grabs Deadman and uses him to bludgeon Batman; I don't know how that would work, exactly, but it looks funny and cool).

Beyond all the ghost effects, Rossmo's Batman and Robin are both really cool-looking, and I love the big-eyed version of the characters he's come up with. 

I was also rather fond of Deconnick's contribution, "Fore", drawn by John Romita Jr. and Klaus Janson. It shows a brilliant billionaire version of Bruce Wayne (note his high-tech golfing accessories) golfing with an extremely intimidating businessman, and doing some crime-fighting simultaneously, seemingly helping his friend James Gordon (the Wayne/Gordon friendship, mentioned in the very first Detective Comics story, isn't one that gets played up much anymore, certainly not to the extent that the Batman/Gordon one is; Snyder, Ivan Reis and Joe Prado's story covers that ground here). That sequence is, of course, interspersed with scenes of Batman Batmanning, allowing for lots of nice JRJR/Janson drawings of smashing glass and big, chunky figures colliding; I'm quite fond of how JRJR draws Batman's ears, as not only are they rather long, as I like 'em, but also rather broad (Not unlike Quitely's on the cover, really). 

There are several other noteworthy stories, each noteworthy for different reasons.

 Brian Michael Bendis and David Marquez's "The Master Class" has Batman, Batgirl, Spoiler and all of the Robins all coincidentally coming across the same dead body and working the case together (I really liked Marquez's drawings of the various members of the Bat-Family, even as  I wondered why Duke Thomas and Cassandra Cain were MIA, and  I thought his Spoiler was particularly good. Is it worth noting that Tim Drake was wearing his Red Robin costume from Tynion's 'TEC run again, rather than his dumb "Drake" get-up...?)

Greg Rucka and Eduardo Risso's "Rookie" is a nice portrait of a Gotham City police officer dealing with the department's corruption, one in which Batman is about as behind-the-scenes as he could possibly get. This one actually works as a sort of companion piece to Rucka and co-writer Ed Brubaker's Gotham Central comic, which similarly put the police at the forefront of a crime comic narrative that the colorful superheroes and supervillains intersected with rather than drove.

King's contribution, "Legacy", sees the former Batman writer teaming with probably the biggest and most surprising "get" among the book's artists: Walt Simonson. Their story, dedicated to the late Denny O'Neil, is a Batman vs. Doctor Phosphorous story, in which cancer is the greatest, deadliest threat. Typical of King, it's well-constructed, although it might prove tiresome to some readers to see him once again returning to the Earth-2-like future in which Batman and Catwoman are married and grow old together (which is apparently going to be the one-third of the premise of his upcoming series featuring the pair?). Still, it's clever, with the villain managing to kill Batman while still losing to him, and showing Batman's rather humane response. Also it's drawn by Simonson, so that alone makes it a joy to read. 

There's some pretty interesting penciler/inker pairings in Wolfman, Luppachino and Bill Sienkiewicz's "Odyssey" and Dan Jurgens and Kevin Nowlan's "Generations: Fractured," the latter of which has Nowlan finishing Jurgens' lay-outs. That last one, along with Mariko Tamaki and Dan Mora's "A Gift," are the two stories here that seem to be launch pads for future ones, as the Jurgens/Nowlan short seems to set up the Generations: Shattered one-shot solicited for December,  and the Tamaki/Mora story ends with the words "Not The End..." and slugs for storylines in both Detective Comics and Batman

All in all, this was $10 well spent. 

Runaways By Rainbow Rowell Vol. 5: Canon Fodder (Marvel Entertainment) Rainbow Rowell does such a good job of creating a minor superhero in Doc Justice that there was a moment or two early in this volume where I began to wonder if maybe the character wasn't actually based on some minor, pre-existent Marvel superhero. 

This volume, drawn mostly by Andrews Genolet (although Kris Anka draws one issue), is a more-or-less complete story, following the team as they join Karolina and Nico back into active superheroing, this time allied with Doc Justice as his new "J-Team." Everyone gets a new name and a new costume, and, under their new mentor's tutelage, a new lease on life. The superpower-less Gert, however, has reservations, and they only get deeper as she trains to be the teams "man in the chair." Is this new arrangement too good to be true? Spoiler alert: Yes, yes it is. 

This continues to be a smart, well-made series, a super-comic that functions both as an enjoyable superhero dramedy and a commentary on the genre. 

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #108
(IDW Publishing)
Sophie Campbell is still unfortunately relegated to just a "story" creditI guess what I thought might be a fill-in issue is actually more of a fill-in arcbut, as with last issue, writer/colorist Ronda Pattison and artist Nelson Daniel do a fine job, and I've no complaints at all about the quality of their work. It's just not what I want from Sophie Campbell's run on TMNT, you know...?

The Slithery, the eel monster introduced last issue, has apparently just been collecting Mutant Town children, and it adds the Turtles to its collection. For some reason, it stores everyone in a weird slime web evocative of the alien larder from Aliens

The Turtles deal with the eel monster rather quickly, and the tough moral position they are put in, one reinforced by Lita, who asks them not to kill or hurt it, is resolved for them when it escapes the sewers and heads out to sea while they are still debating what to do with it. 

As The Slithery differs quite a bit from all the other mutants in Mutant Town, not being an anthropomorphic animal, but just a giant eel with arms and a degree of intelligence well short of the ability to speak, it brings up an interesting question that might get explored in the futurewhat are the longer-lasting environmental effects of the mutagenic bomb that created Mutant Town? 

Campbell and Pattison do some plot-moving here, especially with Baxter Stockman and April O'Neil, and the wider cast including Alopex, Mona Lisa and April all gets some stuff to do involving saving the kids from The Slithery that doesn't involve fighting it. 

Uzaki-Chan Wants To Hang Out! Vol. 1 (Seven Seas Entertainment) Well, I've found itthe absolute weirdest cover gimmick in comics. You can't tell by looking at the image of the cover above, but it's partially embossed, and do you want to guess which parts of it are embossed? See the young woman on the cover? That's Uzaki Hana, the Uzaki-Chan of the title, and her breasts are embossed. 

So, were you encountering the book in real life, there's a subtle but odd 3-D effect to the image, so that her large breasts look even more pronounced. Oh, and because her breasts are embossed, that part of the cover obviously feels differently than the rest of the cover, making this the rare comic book a reader can feel up. 

So here we are, over 20 years since the end of the 1990s, the decade of weird comics cover enhancements, and Seven Seas has managed to outdo the entire North American direct market's weirdness.

As for the comic itself, the work of manga-ka Take, it's not nearly as pervy as its cover. Uzaki is a college student at the same school as Sakurai Shinichi, one year her elder, and a kinda sorta friend from high school. Uzaki is effervescent to an alarming degree, the polar opposite of Sakurai, who prefers quiet and spending time alone. Uzaki, unable to process someone wanting to be alone all the time, interprets this as some sort of problem she needs to fix, and so she spends all the time she can spare with her senpai, often to his great annoyance.

Despite their odd couple nature, the two obviously also have a degree of affection for one another, and may actually turn out to be a perfect couple, something that will be as obvious to the readers as it is to some of the incidental characters, like Sakurai's boss and his co-worker at the family restaurant he works at. 

Step one, of course, is for Sakurai to admit that maybe he doesn't actually mind Uzaki's attentions, which vacillate wildly from annoying little sister to motherly concern over his "lone wolf" attitude and the deficiencies of his bachelor life-style.

Although Uzaki's boobs are the centerpiece of the cover designand those of the future volumes, although I haven't seen those ones in person so I don't know if they are embossed as welland one of the most striking elements of her character designs (she's also extremely petite, a good three heads shorter than Sakurai), they're not the focus of the story, although there are definitely gags revolving around them. There are several sexy gags of various kinds, but were this a live-action American film, it would probably get away with a PG-13 rating (I think there's just one panel of partial nudity, and Seven Seas rates the book "Older Teen"). 

Some of these are too-long walks to an awkward moment, as when Uzaki somehow gets herself stuck in a bush and Sakurai grabs her by the waist to pull her out, but most of them revolve around Uzaki doing something blithely titillating and Sakurail trying to convince her to stop and/or not think impure thoughts about her.

So it's your rather standard will they, won't they manga romantic comedy, differentiated from many by the slightly-older-than-usual age of the characters, the particular character dynamic and Take's decision to make "extremely busty protagonist" a focal point. 

Well that, and the weird cover, of course. 


Marvel Action: Avengers: The Ruby Egress (Book Two) (IDW Publishing) I so enjoyed IDW's Marvel Action: Captain Marvel: A.I.M. Small (reviewed here) that it reminded me I was behind on their Avengers book, and so I sought to remedy that. This volume, collecting Marvel Action: Avengers #4-6 by writer Matt Manning and artist Jon Sommariva, is a fight book in probably the truest sense of the term. Relatively little other than fighting occurs in its pages, and that which does seems to still revolve around fighting: Talking about the fighting that's in progress, reviewing the the fighting that just occurred, getting ready for the next fight. This volume certainly lives up to the "Action" part of the line's name.

The arc begins in media res, with Thor and Captain Marvel trapped "somewhere else," engaged in constant battles that distract them from their goal or rescuing Doctor Strange from a far off mountain. Something is clearly wrong, as their eyes repeatedly turn run when they are fighting, and their opponents will all be familiar to Marvel fans: The Mindless Ones, Zzutak, Taboo and some really strange creatures I didn't recognize, but whose design was extremely cool.

Meanwhile, Iron Man (in a neat new stealth suit), Captain America, Black Panther and Black Widow all try to keep Count Nefaria (dressed in his most supervillain-like outfit, the one with the big, dumb "N" on his belt) from stealing a special museum piece which, when united with magical ruby he already has his hands on, will form a super magic maguffin that will allow him to summon an army of monsters and warriors from within the gemincluding Thor, Captain Marvel and Doctor Strange, who we gradually learn are actually trapped inside it. 

The two teams wage their war against him on two fronts, and I don't think it counts as a spoiler to say that the good guys win and the bad guy loses. As with the first volume, there's an intimation of a new, different and greater threat waiting in the wings. At the end of the first volume, it was Nefaria. At the end of this volume, it's "The Fear Eaters." On the last page, Madame Masque, who appeared in the first volume, reappears and makes a report to A.I.M. that the events of this volume didn't work out the way they had hoped, and that they will need a new strategy, as "The Fear Eaters will be here soon." Those final words appear over a panel of a swarm of purple something-or-others headed toward the planet Earth.

I like Sommariva's art quite a bit, and I don't think I would have enjoyed this story nearly as much were it drawn by another artist. There's a real energy to his work, and his figures all seem to stretch and lean into their actions in a way that gives the static images a dynamic sense of animation. I also like how he exaggerates the designs and expressions just enough to accentuate the action and drama, but not so much that it sacrifices storytelling. 

And Manning certainly gives him plenty of fun things to draw here, from all-time great Ditko and Kirby designs to Nefaria's furious, scenery-chomping expressions to a battle-mad Thor throwing down with monsters and Captain Marvel.

Marvel Action: Avengers: The Fear Eaters (Book Three) (IDW) Remember how I was just saying how much I liked Jon Sommariva's art on the previous volume, and I don't think I would have enjoyed the story quite as much without it? Well guess what? The next volume in the series, collecting issues #7-9, isn't drawn by Sommariva, at least, not beyond that pretty great cover, featuring a particularly cool image of everyone's favorite Mental Organism Designed Only For Killing. 

For this three-issue arc, Marcio Fiorito handles the art chores, and while there's nothing particularly wrong or bad about the art, it is a definite shift in style and, therefore, tone. It's far more realistic, far less expressive and far less dynamic. In fact, Fiorito's artwork looks far closer to what one might expect to find in the pages of many Marvel comics published by Marvel Entertainment proper.
The title threat are these extremely weird-looking alien creatures that look a bit like sea monsters and a bit like microorganisms. They generate fear through some sort of natural ability of theirsthat is, beyond the fact that they are fucking terrifying lookingand, as their name implies, they feed off of that fear. Here that manifests by summoning visions that cloud the minds of our heroes, mostly the Black Panther, who spends much of the volume combating the phantom of his father, who he believes has returned to challenge his worthiness as the new Panther and the new king of Wakanda. 

Though Manning has made each of these collections distinct, standalone arcs, the previous ones continue to feed back into the newer ones. So, for example, in this volume, Iron Man fiddles with the helmet on his stealth suit so that it will hide his thoughts, because Count Nefaria was able to see them in the previous volume. And Madame Masque and her hired help the UFoes from the first volume return, in part to keep AIM tied into the events of the series. In the face of the threat posed by the Fear Eaters, MODOK and AIM are prepared to leave Earth in a giant rocket ship, and maybe return in the future to retake the planet from either the Avengers or the Fear Eaters, depending on who wins.

This isn't your first super-comic though, so you already know who wins.

 As with the previous two volumes, this one ends with a splash page revealing a big, cliffhanging threat for the next volume: 
AIM has either taken over a bunch of Avengers that we haven't yet seen appear in this title (although some of those guys have appeared on some of the variant covers), or created their own versions of them (as the fact that there's an orange Hulk would seem to imply).

So yes, this book remains a lot of well-made fun, even if I personally prefer Sommariva's art to that of Fiorito. 

Oh, and my favorite part? In the midst of a global emergency, in which aliens are swarming the planet, Black Panther's plan to save the day involves customizing Iron Man's stealth armor so that it amplifies thoughts and feelings rather than hides themso he can use his own fear as "bait" to draw the Fear Eaters to himbut he takes the time to redesign the helmet so that it has cat ears. No emergency is so urgent that a superhero can't take the time to make sure his branding is on point, after all. 


The Nutcracker and The Mouse King: The Graphic Novel (First Second) Cartoonist Natalie Andrewson's comics adaptation of E.T.A. Hoffman's original story (the basis for the basis of Tchaikovsky's ballet...and thus just about every pop culture riff on the Nutcracker you've ever seen) is a real delight. I was a bit skeptical of it for the some of the first chapter, as I thought it might be a little heavier on narration than necessary, but once the book gets going, it really sings. You can read my full review here

Teen Titans Go! To Camp! (DC Comics) The manic, absurd Teen Titans Go! cartoon was never a great fit for comics adaptations, but the original graphic novel format? That works much better, as I think Sholly Fisch and Marcelo DiChiara prove here. As a long-time DC Comics fan, there was a lot for me to like here, as I previously pointed out on EDILW. In that respect too, it's much like the show. Probably the most fun part, however, was seeing the work of all of the many guest artists who each do a page here and there to dramatize various camp-goers' letters home. More here


Jones, one of the Jones boys said...

Asking this because you're a TMNT superfan and a librarian -- can you recommend any specific TMNT books suitable for a five year-old? I have a good sense of which Marvel and DC books I'd consider suitable for him, but I've got *no* idea about the turtles; I've not read a single comic with them except when they teamed up with Usagi Yojimbo

Caleb said...

Oof, that's a tough one. Is said five-year-old interested in the TMNT because of a particular cartoon? Like, if they like the current cartoon, RISE OF THE TMNT, then I believe there's at least a miniseries that was tied to that (I never watched that cartoon/read any spin-offs, though). I feel like each cartoon has had a companion comic, going back to Archie's TMNT Adventures, which IDW has collected.

Most of the TMNT comics I've read, aside from the old Archie ones, seem geared toward the same audience as the bulk of Marvel and DC's modern output--that is, grown-ups and some teenagers. Five's young enough that I think even the comics with nothing too terribly objectionable might still be kinda complicated. So I would probably start with the cartoon that interested the five-year-old and look for a spin-off/adaptation/story book tied to it.

Hope that helps a little...!

Jones, one of the Jones boys said...

Thanks! Checking out the cartoon-specific books is a good idea. I think it's a different (still recent) show he's been watching; I *hate* the colour scheme -- everything is night-time blue or grey -- but they had a pretty good punchline to a running gag about a He-Man-esque cartoon show the turtles were watching.

If nothing else, I'm glad to hear that my overall sense of the comics' (un)suitability was on the money. I do read Usagi to him (which he loves), so he gets a bit of violence, but Sakai's line is so clean and economical it doesn't "read" as distressing. (He won't read any story with the demon Jei, however, which is a shame because Jei is the best/worst)

Caleb said...

Sounds like he watches the 2012-2017 Nickelodeosn TMNT, the series before the current one (Rise of The TMNT). IDW published a companion comic for that series, TMNT: Amazing Adventures. There's also a Batman/TMNT Adventures crossover in which the Batman: The Animated Series characters crossover with the TMNT from that cartoon. I've only read that one, which was pretty good.

I believe IDW also collected all of the various Usagi/TMNT crossovers into a single volume when they collected the latest one, although it's been long enough since I read it that I an't remember how appropriate or inappropriate it might be for a five-year-old...